Georgia Hospitality Leaders: Better Days Ahead

Patrick Hickey

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

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It’s not exactly breaking news that the hospitality industry was one of those hit the hardest by COVID-19.  But Georgia leaders have not rested on their laurels, working to secure economic relief and provide support until traffic picks back up.

The Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association has been on the forefront of that effort, and last week hosted a webinar to update members on a range of legislative issues and statistical outlooks to keep them up to date on the state of the industry.

First, the bad news.  A live poll conducted during the meeting reported that even with the recent announcement of a vaccine close to production, 73% of respondents have not seen an uptick in group bookings so far.  While hotel occupancy bottomed out in April at just 10%, entering December that number had climbed in Atlanta to 36%, but fears of a holiday COVID surge persist.

The GHLA, along with big sister organization American Hotel and Lodging Association, headed by former Georgia legislator Chip Rogers, is pushing for aid as soon as possible.  HotelsACT is the group’s grassroots effort to demand aid before Congress goes on recess for Christmas.  Should the House and Senate not find middle ground by December 11th to pass a relief bill, additional funding will likely not be released until February.  That would be devastating for an industry where one in four hotel workers are currently unemployed.

Back to good news though – Rogers pointed to several legislative victories AHLA has already scored, including PPP, the HOPE Act, and liability protection against COVID lawsuits.  He also looked ahead to 2021, warning against federal cleaning/safety mandates that might be pushed on hotels and conflicting with the AHLA Safe Stay industry standard that has proven successful thus far.

William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Visitors Bureau, came equipped with some hard numbers that paint a rosier picture of what 2021 might have in store.  By his estimation Atlanta is leading the country in convention booking at the moment, with many other destination cities either locked down or heading back into lockdown soon.  Scheduled events like the SEC Championship and Peach Bowl, though not at full capacity, promise to provide at least a modicum of relief for Atlanta hotels.  Pate said he projects a rough first quarter of 2021, with normalcy settling in over the summer as vaccine distribution and adoption takes effect.  Looking further ahead by 2023 should be back at 2019 levels of all time highs, with more than 20 major events still on the docket and more surely to come.

There is no question that the hotel industry is hurting right now, but there is also no question that its advocacy groups are working hard on its behalf.  Said Brad Koeneman, general manager of Hilton Atlanta and 2021 chairman of the GHLA board of directors, “I am confident that better days are ahead.”